African culture has, from its earliest roots, integrated dance and music into its core traditions. These have been used in celebrations, rituals, and even in mourning, to convey ideas, appeal to the spirit realm and integrate the tribe members into a unified entity.
Most of the art forms and pieces created by African people were actually created, not only for their aesthetic appeal, but also, and probably more so, for their value in such rituals. In fact, items like masks and beaded jewellery were generally viewed with a three-pronged approach in mind:
1. Meaning of the piece – whether it is a mask, sculpture, painting, carved rock or beaded necklace, the piece has its own significance determined by its very nature. For example, masks are usually used to communicate with the spirits and in preparation for battle, so they will bear features that are appropriate to these functions.
2. Dance – When the artist is designing and creating a piece of art, there is almost always a dance that is associated with the piece, depending on its application. This dance is kept in mind during its creation in order for the two to work in cooperation with one another.
3. Spiritism – Traditional songs and dances are used in conjunction with art pieces to communicate with the spirit realm (usually the ancestors). This can be to request help, wisdom or insight, or to gain approval.
Art also features in the way that the singer and dancers decorate their bodies for the purpose of such a performance. Because dance is usually a ritual associated with religious or cultural roots, the appearance of the body also depends on the particular application. Soldiers that are preparing for war may paint their entire bodies and bear intricately-decorated weapons along with masks bearing references to power and victory, while pubescent girls would rather don colourful beads and bear beautiful face paint in preparation for marriage. Textiles are also used in African performances as the singers and dancers clothe themselves or their king for each specific ritual being performed.
The African cultures value art, craft and creative expression in a way that very few, if any, modern cultures do. As such, their freedom of expression and the import placed upon their pieces is an identifying mark, emulated by many but perfected only by African artists.
For more information, please view: http://www.southlondongallery.org/page/a-gaze-through-the-lens-of-contemporary-african-performance